No matter how organized or how high the GPA, there will inevitably be a point for many graduates this spring where they still aren’t completely sure of what lies ahead of them after May. So if you’re not already committed to your dream job, keep reading for a post-graduation option that could help out you– and your community.

Volunteering, or as high school guidance counselors like to call it “community service” may not be the most lucrative choice for graduates, but it could result in big payoffs in later down the road.

Real–life skill sets

Let’s be honest here: eventually, we’d all like a job, and, preferably, a little bit of job security as well. But in order to get both of those things, you’ve got to prove you have the skills that deserve them first. Volunteering can help tremendously with that.

“First, volunteering can be a great way to build your resume,” said Niki Bornes, a graduate assistant at the Office of Volunteer Programming at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in an email interview.  “Having a section in your resume dedicated to volunteer work you have done and the skills gained/used and knowledge gained through that experience is completely appropriate and looks great to employers!  Also, taking on leadership roles in volunteering allows you to gain even more experience and to develop even more skills, so finding a position that offers that is very helpful.”

And while more in-depth programs require a greater commitment, they also could result in a greater result when it comes to finding a job later in life.

“Participating in long-term, full-time programs that are considered service work but act as paid employment, such as AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, and Teach for America, allow individuals to gain skills in a particular field of interest as you would for an actual job, which can make you quite marketable when applying for graduate–level school or paid employment,” Bornes said.

Narrow your talents and interests

Even after the hours slaving away at our respective majors and minors, it can be difficult to know exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life right as you leave college. Again, volunteering can help take your stress away. With hundreds of volunteer opportunities in many communities across the country, there’s something for everyone. And if it doesn’t work out? Just move on to the next one. Eventually, you’re bound to find something that interests you and ignites a passion inside you. Once you know where your interests are, you can search out the different opportunities available in the organization and match them to your talents.

Exhibit A: I volunteered for Habitat for Humanity during my years on campus. But if you knew me, you’d know that handing me a hammer or nail gun at 7 am is really not a safe decision for anyone involved. So I talked to the organization and found out that lots of other opportunities were available, from fundraising to publicity– areas that were much more up this journalist’s alley.  

Connections, connections, connections

Volunteering after graduation can also be a great way to make connections with people in your community, both socially and professionally, at a time when you could potentially cut yourself off from the rest of the world and just watch Gossip Girl until your dream boss calls, begging you to come in for an interview (doubtful, but here’s hoping, right?)

In fact, many non-profit organizations are actually more likely to hire you on as an employee after you’ve volunteered because you’ve already been trained and know your way around the organization, Bornes said.

But even if you’re not planning on staying in a non-profit organization for the rest of your life, employers like to see applicants who are active in their community. Plus, are you really going to just forget about all those networking skills you learned in college?

So if all you’ve got lined up this summer is a return to Mom and Dad’s couch, look into some volunteer opportunities in your community or even beyond it. What you choose to do after graduation, even if it doesn’t come with a high corporate salary right away, could help pave your future and pay off in the end.

– By Kristy Shaulis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign